RNC tightens 2016 primary calendar, rules

Greg Nash

A series of changes aimed at tightening the GOP presidential primary calendar sailed through a vote at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, giving the party new tools to control its nomination process.

The new 2016 rules will make it much harder for states to cut in line in the nomination process and will help Republicans avoid a repeat of a drawn out, bloody primary many believe damaged Mitt Romney's chances in 2012 of defeating President Obama.

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After a contentious Thursday hearing on some rules changes, few members joined Virginia Committeeman Morton Blackwell in objecting to the final package — the landslide vote was 153 in favor, with 9 opposing.

"I'm really proud of you for this debate," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said following the vote, to a standing ovation from the committee. "This is a historic day for our party, and I thank you all for what you've done. … We will all have a much better process in 2016."

The new rules will help protect early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — from others who want to rush up to the front, and allow the party to hold an earlier convention, as they look to unite and raise more money for the general election.

The four designated early states will be required to hold their contests in February. States that vote between March 1 and March 14 will be required to award their delegates proportionally, weakening their impact, while states with primaries after that will assign their delegates in a winner-take-all contest, making them much more consequential in the delegate count and adding an incentive to wait.

The states that break those guidelines will face increased penalties compared to previous years. The committee passed a rule drastically shrinking the number of delegates that state would get at the party's nominating convention. States with 30 delegates or more would be cut down to just nine delegates plus the RNC's committee members, and states with less than 30 delegates would be cut down to 6 delegates plus their committeemen. 

In previous years, states including Florida and Michigan have sought to jump the gun, moving their primary dates up, leading to a scramble by the early-voting states to slide theirs up as well. That pushed the primary process earlier and earlier — candidates were stumping through Iowa during the Christmas season in 2011, ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. The mad rush over the busy season hurt candidates' ability to reach voters in Iowa, stretched out the primary process into an even longer slog between the first and last states, and ruined the holidays of many.

The committee has sought to tighten rules and increase penalties in the past, with limited success, but officials believe this year, the process will work much better.

The lopsided vote came despite repeated protestations from conservatives, led by Blackwell, over a few aspects of the rules. But the Virginian had few allies in the meeting, and after a fiery Thursday committee meeting, seemed resigned to the rules' passage.

Blackwell and Priebus even joked back and forth at one point over his stubbornness. After Blackwell moved for debate on an amendment, Priebus asked him if it was the same amendment he'd lost a vote on in the Thursday's meeting.

"Thank you for reminding me," he said wryly to laughs from many on the committee.